Thursday, October 21, 2004

Shots aren't your only flu virus defense

By Peggy O'Farrell
Enquirer staff writer

Lisa Haynes-Henry will be washing her hands a lot between now and spring.

Haynes-Henry is one of the millions of Americans who won't be getting a flu shot this year due to the last-minute shortage of vaccine. The 55 million vaccine doses that are available are being reserved for high-risk groups, including adults 65 and older, children 6 months to 23 months and health care and child care workers.

The Anderson Township woman isn't too worried about getting the flu.

"When I put it in perspective, like my folks who are in their late 60s and early 70s, I'd rather see them get the vaccine because their health is a little more fragile than mine is," she says.

The key to preventing influenza is in stopping the spread of the virus, experts say. Flu shots do that best, but there are other options:

• FluMist: It's flu vaccine in a nasal spray, and it's a hot ticket this season. FluMist is only approved for healthy people ages 5 to 49. Be warned: It's in short supply, so it's hard to find, and it's not covered by many health insurance plans.

• The antiviral drugs amantadine and rimantadine can prevent influenza symptoms from developing if they're given with 48 hours of exposure, says Dr. Tom Imhoff, clinical effectiveness and safety officer for TriHealth. They can also be used to treat flu symptoms if administered quickly enough, but they only cut the severity and duration of symptoms by a day or two, Imhoff says.

• Hygiene: Wash your hands, says Dr. Bob Wolterman, a pediatrician and internal medicine specialist with UC Physicians in West Chester Township. Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough. And use sanitizing hand lotions or gels that kill bacteria and viruses. New this year, the Kleenex Anti-Viral tissue contains active ingredients that kill the viruses that cause colds, flu and RSV, a lower-respiratory virus common in children.

• Some foods and spices can help strengthen the immune system, according to herbalist and osteopath Cass Ingram, author of Natural Cures for Killer Germs (Knowledge House; $19.95). His recommendations include garlic, cinnamon, oregano, yogurt, allspice, radishes, papaya and ginger.


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